Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Contonou

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Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Contonou
Volume 3: The Skeletal Essences of Afro-Funk 1969-1980
Analogue Africa (www.analogafrica.com)

A few listens to any of Analogue Africa’s painstakingly considered compilations of this band, of which there are now three, plus a reissue of their first LP, would make one wonder why, with the variety of rhythms with which these guys felt at home, they never became well known outside their native Benin. The rawest and most intense moments of their work, which AA has singled out for reissue, are as innovative and infectious as prime 70s Fela. Perhaps though, it’s their chameleon-like ability to not only shift rhythms, but later, styles, that has kept them from such notoriety. One thinks of Fela, and immediately of Afro-Beat (there is no Antibalas serving up primal Poly Rythmo Sato and Jerk), but for Poly Rythmo, who later cut LPs of Soukous and Congolese Rumba, as well as overtly Cuban-inspired grooves, such as “Gendamou Na Wili We Gnannin,” the sheer magnitude of rhythmic territory they explored is perhaps why they haven’t been at the tips of western-dwelling African music enthusiasts’ tongues.

But that has changed. Thanks to Soundway’s exhilarating if uneven collection, Kings of Benin Urban Groove 1972-80, an initial window into to this long-lasting, radically prolific band’s history was unlocked. Yet, it’s taken AA’s multi-volume distillations of the band’s heaviest, most driving tracks, made for a variety of labels in the first half of the 1970s, for many to realize how important this band is. And of course, vol. 3 doesn’t disappoint. From the multi-tempo’d “A O O Ida,” with sweltering screams over barbed-wire sharp organ, to “Karateka’s” nearly metallic riff, this collection, like the other two, shows a consistency of raw power the band likely rarely had over a complete LP. There’s the lo-fi Afro-beat of “Al Gabani,” with yet another hair raising organ solo, and then the slightly slicker Bossa Afro “Ecoutie Ma Melodie,” its melodic riff supplied by a cheap keyboard and staccato guitar chops.

Yet, unique to this collection is closing track, “Min We Tun So,” a slow ballad with plenty of room for some gorgeous electric guitar insinuations. And like the other two collections, Skeletal Essences comes with another massive booklet, this one eschewing detailed history of band and labels (you can find that in the other comps), for song lyrics, tons of photos and a dedication to the recently late founder member, Melome Clement. There is no doubt about the fact that, despite their initial bafflement at label owner Samy Ben Redjeb’s track choices for these compilations, the band’s decision to make new records with that warm, imperfect 70s analog honesty (something Ghana’s Ebo Taylor has been doing as well) is a result of Redjeb’s ear and his label’s authority. - Bruce Miller

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